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Airlines Luxury Holidays

When being independent isn’t independent

There are great advantages to being an independent travel agent, with what I believe is the impartiality you are able to give to customers including the widest breadth of product possible to cater that need, desire or recommendation.

Yes, it is quite right to be specialist – maybe cruise, activity, touring, it doesn’t matter, but that is not going to be right for everyone and even within those genres there is choice. Personally there maybe favourites, that might be quite true and naturally you would sell those companies who fit your requirements sometimes more than what suits your client. You might have favourites due to the relationship with a representative or loyalty to another member of staff, and those relationships matter.

The ability of selling small niche tour operators is extremely important, as they have the knowledge that we don’t have in highly specialist areas – especially to destinations or experiences off the beaten track. Although they are important to fill a gap in the market, it isn’t the whole market – and there are still many people out there who are looking for a standard package holiday – with great impartial service.

Being independent doesn’t always mean you can sell what you want, but instead sell what your customer wants.

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Luxury Holidays

Monte Carlo or bust?

Well, once again I went off on one of the outstanding British Airways Club Europe offers from London’s Gatwick Airport, this time to the South of France and the majestic city of Nice.

As always, my trip was somewhat of a speedy one – not given that January is the busiest time in the travel industry. I knew that I could make it work though, and booked myself the Radisson Hotel in Nice, close to the airport as a convenient base. There seemed to be a conference going on there, but otherwise it was extremely quiet there, as did the rest of Nice.

I’m not sure if I could recommend the Radisson sadly though. It is just a little too far out of the centre of Nice for it to be great as a city break, and the beach outside makes it no good either for a sunbathing holiday. The rooms are nice enough and breakfast very nice but expensive, something you would want pre-purchased into the price.

The main ambition of the trip was to get to Monte Carlo, which is very easy by train from the main station in Nice. It is a scenic journey along the coast, and takes about 20 minutes. If it wasn’t raining it would have been beautiful and would look great in the summer. The convince of the train brought me out into Sainte Devote.

So with that – I went on to walk the famous Formula One track, somewhat smaller than you think and see on television. The tunnel especially is a lot more of a curve than you expect. Anyway – here is the track!

Walk a little outside the usual areas and it feels like you are walking into a upmarket village going about their day to day things. The scenery doesn’t disappoint though, with some spectacular views and you can see why it is a favourite for training of many sports stars.

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I returned to the airport with thanks to the Menton-Monaco-Nice Airport bus service, although very expensive at €22. I was in fact the only person on the service, so going direct to Terminal 1 at Nice Airport and very early for my flight home with the journey taking less than 30 minutes.

If you have a little time to spare, this is certainly worth the visit when in Nice.

Categories
Adventures Luxury Holidays

The Venice before Christmas

This trip to Venice was somewhat unplanned. I say unplanned as it booked via an extremely advantageous airfare with British Airways at relatively late notice for me. Advantageous I hear you say, that’s a bit of a strange word to use, but having recently flown on the last ever 737 flight from Gatwick I was on the lookout for somewhere to go, although maybe not as quickly as I was expecting. Just as it would happen, British Airways launched a quite amazing flash sale – £150pp return in Club Europe to a number of destinations in Europe from Gatwick.

There were quite a number of destinations to choose from including: Seville, Malta, Nice, Marrakech, Verona – but I seemed to have an attraction to Venice. So that was booked, upon the fare rules which meant a two night stay – coming back on Christmas Eve Eve (Which I now believe is a day!).

So, the train it was down to Gatwick – which worked well, leaving at an amazingly early time in the morning for the departure time at noon. It would mean that I could spend a little bit of time in the Terraces lounge, which is closing in January for the last time. Things will be changing at the North Terminal for British Airways passengers in 2016.

The flight was slightly delayed, although not until we actually boarded the aircraft. We actually boarded at the same time as the Captain, who was very jovial! It was an Air Traffic delay because of the French, so we left stand on time and taxied out, holding outside the new extension to the South Terminal for about 45 minutes.

The hotel I had chosen was the Carnival Palace, and it was convenient that it was on the Water Bus route into the city, but not much more. It was so far out that I actually got lost on Tuesday and for anyone who knows me knows that I rarely get lost!

That even I went out for a walk in the city, which amazingly for December was quite warm despite the fog which had descended over Venice. It at least gave me time to get my bearings.

A full day on Tuesday meant a visit to the Mainland and the ‘town’ of Mestre. I wanted to see what their Christmas Market was like, but I left disappointed back to the train station. The rest of the day was spent walking around the cobbled streets of Venice. I even found a restaurant I liked the look of, but boy could I find it later – NO!

Wednesday meant a return back to Marco Polo Airport, and this time I took the bus from Piazzale Roma. At €8 it is half the price of the Water Bus, and was actually quicker overall, stopping right outside the door rather than trooping across the car park.

The fog was still not good though, sitting in the lounge with a fantastic panoramic view over the apron it would have been great on a clear day – alas, not today and in fact I think it was getting worse, not better. British Airways once again were impeccable, and a great way of rounding off the short stay in Venice… Now ready for the next one!!

Categories
Airlines Luxury Holidays

Dresden Christmas Market – My Favourite So Far!

Dresden isn’t exactly one of the easiest places to get to, although has long been on my list for visiting the Christmas Market.

Last year I went to Nuremberg, and that was a toss up of going there or to Dresden. At the time there was a direct flight from London City to Dresden with CityJet, but since their restructure the route has been dropped. It has been operated over the years by several airlines including British Airways from Gatwick and Lufthansa from Heathrow, but currently it isn’t served by an airline to the UK.
That left me with two options, I could fly indirect and for that my choice would be British Airways to Dusseldorf changing onto Air Berlin for the second hop, or to fly into an alternative airport and take the train.

With a look at the flights, I decided to use my home airport of Luton to fly to Berlin Schoenefeld (and what is due to become the new Berlin airport) and take the direct train from Berlin to Dresden which would take just about two hours, arriving mid afternoon – perfect for going to the Christmas Market in the evening.

My hotel of choice was the Swissotel, a 5* hotel in the centre of the old town and just across the road from the largest and most famous Christmas Market in Dresden. Really, you couldn’t get a more perfect location. Not only that, it was a superb hotel. The staff were some of the best I have encountered anywhere around the world, so accommodating and making sure that every guest had everything they wanted. I certainly would like to stay again, and I have never been to the same Christmas Market twice.

The market was excellent, with a great range of stalls and much more so than other I have seen in Munich and Hamburg. My primary reason for going is to get Stollen for Christmas, and as Dresden is the home of Stollen I wasn’t disappointed. There are more Stollen outlets here than possibly all the other Christmas Markets put together. Sometimes there are just one or two, but here there were at least six, and maybe even more.

The thing I like when I travel is to find something unexpected, and once again this happened in Dresden. I have no idea who this is, but he performed a great rendition of Nella Fanastia – I’m sure the proper music video they were filming will be online soon!

I’m going again next year, it really was that good!

Categories
Luxury Holidays

Back on the Road Again

It has been a while, but I have fallen in love with travelling again.

That might be a funny thing to say for someone who loves travel products, but a number of circumstances of the last few years has meant it has been curtailed somewhat. Thankfully health issues are now behind me, and I now feel confident to be ‘back on the road again’.

I took the conscious decision five years ago that I wouldn’t go on any more industry ‘fam trips’ unless it was an extraordinary opportunity. In fact, I haven’t been on a ‘fam trip’ since 2010 and even then it was somewhat of a mistake.

Instead I am funding my own trips, setting my own agenda wherever I go! Over the last couple of years that has been curtailed to just the Formula One Barcelona Test, a short trip in the summer and a Christmas Market.

Things are changing though, and I have finally got the confidence to travel again. It started with the wonderful short trip to Turin – coming home on the final British Airways 737 flight. I travel to Brussels next month for a concert, then on to another German Christmas Market in Dresden.

Shortly afterwards, I am sampling the Club Europe product on British Airways with a couple of days in Venice just before Christmas. After New Year in heading to Nice in early January, and then back for the Formula One Barcelona test at the end of February.

So that’s a busy winter! It doesn’t stop there, with a short trip to Valencia, for May Bank Holiday Weekend.

Travel is certainly back on the agenda, and all my thoughts will be posted exclusively here.

Happy travelling!

Categories
Luxury Holidays

Virgin Holidays – Just another Ryanair

Look, I have been an independent travel agent for the past eleven years. Yes, we have our favourites, but being independent comes with the great advantage that I can match the right product for the right client – be it with a mass-market vertically integrated tour operator or a small Aito specialist operator.

I can’t confess to being a big seller of Virgin Holidays, the Indian call centre put me off many years ago, but they have always been useful for a certain demographic of client and that’s great. I wouldn’t turn away any business, even if I did have to price match against a 10% online discount. But it’s the brand people are looking for.

Yes, Virgin is one of those brands which people relate to and understand in travel. The reality though being that the ‘Virgin’ brand is just a franchise, and each individual part is separate from another. You only have to look at the three Virgin branded airlines around the world, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America and Virgin Australia to see how poorly they work together. All individual in their own right, with no continuity of product.

The most common misconception is Virgin Holidays is ‘Virgin Atlantic Holidays’ – that really isn’t the truth, many other tour operators get the same allocations on Virgin Atlantic flights, and are often cheaper if you are clever. There are other choices, and there will always be other choices – just look at what happened with BA Holidays.

To be told that Virgin Holidays want to ‘own their customer’ is wrong, you can’t own a customer. You can earn their loyalty, but in the end everyone has a choice.

The rhetoric sounds alarmingly like Ryanair, who have long held a dislike to agents pushing people to book directly to get a ‘better service’. In reality it is because they are able to sell more products directly to customer, with a likely hood they would be able to bite. Us agents tend to bypass this, and sell our own additional products if required – more often than not because it is better.

It really isn’t a great loss. We have some great tour operators with whom we work with, and have a close and special bond with. Not only are they competitive on price, but able to give the choice needed for a customer to make an informed decision from a range of different carriers or products. Those operators also support us, and give us the same pricing as you will find online.

Booking with a professional travel agent is still the only way to get unbiased and honest advise when arranging your holiday.

Categories
Adventures Luxury Holidays

Surprise and Delight

For someone who only ever seems to talk about travel and the aviation industry, you would wonder what role entertainment would have in our world. Well, actually there is a lot – after all they are still selling a product, just the same as a travel agent, tour operator, hotel, airline or cruise company. It’s about how you grow and nurture your ‘fans’ which will ultimately feed your success.

I have been a ‘fan’ of Delta Goodrem for nearly 13 years, December 2002 to be exact when I saw Born To Try performed on Neighbours for the first time. It was so refreshing at the time to see such an authentic song written and performed, that it was hard not to fall in love with it.

The album of which it came from – Innocent Eyes, was a game changer in Australia, Delta’s homeland. It held position for half the year on the album chart, and had an unprecedented five number one singles form it, making the album one of the highest sold ever in the country. The UK didn’t quite reach that level, but we did have a string on singles within the top ten.

The next album, Mistaken Identity was brought over to the UK once again, and charts her recovery from cancer, a difficult subject to put into a whole album and never had the acclaim the first album did, apart from a duet with partner to be, Brian McFadden. The relationship, which lasted seven years nailed her leave from the UK, and the last performance here was in 2005.

During that time I followed what she was up to, and although I near met her a couple of times in both London and New York, was never able to one thing or another. Shortly afterwards she retreated to the Australian market, also living in LA with her songwriting partner Vince Pizzinga.

Two further albums were released in Australia, and neither did as well as Innocent Eyes. They moved in a slightly different sound, chasing a more electronic and dance inspired theme.

This summer saw the release of a brand new single, Wings, which was written after going on tour with Ricky Martin in Australia. Written with the help of Australian ‘hit makers’ DNA, it was her first number one in Australia in nearly ten years.

So there we are, up to the current day and you might be thinking where is the element of surprise and delight? Well…

It was just ten days ago that I heard Delta could be coming back to the UK. I didn’t know in what capacity, but as she is going to be doing Cats in Australia it would make sense that she would at least come over and see Andrew Lloyd-Webber who wrote the musical… To be honest, I think most of us ‘fans’ who had been there since the beginning had given up hope of any UK performance, so a visit here was certainly a surprise.

Last weekend, it was announced she would be playing G-A-Y in London on Saturday night. The first gig in the UK since 2005, although a rather low key entrance back into the UK scene.

As she arrived, more news trickled out about what was happening over the week, including ‘something’ which would happen on Thursday. Sunday turned into Monday, and it was announced there would be a ‘secret show’ in London and you had to enter for a place via Twitter – talk about ‘delighting’ those remaining loyal UK fans.

Needless to say I got a ticket, and needless to say from the Terms and Conditions that it would be an intimate affair with just 50 pairs up for grabs. When the venue came down you really had to make a double take – it was an art gallery on the Fulham Road, not really what would expect!

Making sure I was there in good time, and with help from people who I met online – I was at the front of the queue. That meant I was at the front in this tiny room. She came on stage at just about 8, and started with a medley of songs not even released in the UK.

Well, that didn’t stop the crowd though who were clearly all fans to start with, and many like me who had been there from the very beginning. Even with songs which weren’t released here everyone was singing every word. The connection was there, even if it was just her with her guitarist Dolce and a drummer.

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Then came some old hits including Born to Try, Innocent Eyes, Not Me Not I and Lost Without You off the Innocent Eyes album, along with new songs You and You Alone and the single Wings.

As a fan you couldn’t have hoped for anything more, an acoustic set in an intimate setting as the return to the UK.

To top the evening off, she came back after the set and met every single one of us, chatting as if you were a long lost friend. We had the opportunity to have photos taken and anything we wanted signed. To be given that amount of time is unprecedented. I later found out that she put the show on herself for the fans – there you go, knowing how to surprise and delight your closest fans to make then even more loyal.

Think about that in business, what can you do to surprise and delight your clients to make them even more loyal to your brand. You might not have had ten years away, but there is always something you can do which is not just discounts or promotions to bring an emotional connection to your core base of customers.

I would have never have believed you last weekend if you said that I would be going to an small show and meeting Delta within a matter of days. So, do something different and memorable to capture those who might fly away…

Categories
Luxury Holidays

A good travel agent doesn’t have to be a homeworker

I am a travel person, and you could say I have always been a travel person. When I did my first work experience in a Thomas Cook Shop over fifteen years ago, the teacher who later became my head of sixth form was so impressed at my knowledge that he encouraged me to forge a career in travel, even if that meant missing out on university. At the time that was unusual, everyone was going to university and I was almost sat on the sidelines, but some good fortune meant I was able to find an apprenticeship with an independent travel agency in my local area.

Knowledge has always been my prize possession. That doesn’t have to mean that you have direct knowledge, for instance having travelled to a particular resort or hotel, but you are able to have deep knowledge on how the system works. I have been following the aviation industry for the best part of 25 years (and yes I am not much older than that, I started young!). It has seen considerable change over that period, from a time where there was no such thing as a ‘low cost airline’ to nowadays where we thing nothing of jetting off to somewhere for a quick break. However, the systems and processes behind the growth hasn’t changed, as that is quite true of a travel agent too.

As a travel agent we do get some flack. The most common being has the internet not killed you off yet, and my response is why should it? If they knew and trusted a good travel agent they wouldn’t be asking me that question. Its all about relationships and people trusting either your opinion or knowledge. Don’t knock it until you try it, and you might be surprised.

High street travel agents, at least the good ones are not going anywhere either. Sometimes I’m felt to feel inferior to those who work from home with the belief we only work during office hours with a restricted portfolio of operators to work with. That in reality isn’t the case, you are either a good travel agent or not, it doesn’t matter where your office is.

There has been many a time replying to a clients email at 10pm at night, reassuring about a query or a problem, or just talking to them at a time which is convenient for them, which might not be the usual office hours. I also hand deliver tickets if required, and email the hotels ahead of time for those where I have a contact to make sure the clients are made to feel at home.

All of this is very simple, and ‘delights’ clients. With modern technology anybody can do this anywhere, be it by email, text or even Skype to be as flexible as possible, and you have to make the right contacts.

I’m proud I work in a high street agency and believe me when I say the good ones can really make a difference when organising and booking your holiday.